Recently, a new Pew Survey revealed that millennials don’t really believe in any –ism other than individualism. (Certainly not populism.) Apparently, only 19% of people born after 1980 think that most people can be trusted. Gee, what a surprise! Knock down twin towers, replace with twin towers of the internet and right-wing radio, and see what you get. No, but seriously, Obamacare, the shutdown, the way most websites are moderated, the people in both parties and Wall Street responsible for the recession who never paid for it…shocking, shocking that people don’t trust strangers so much.
When I hear news about polls like this, I go to moderate Republicans for a response. I like moderate Republicans. They’ve been driven to extinction on the elected level, but they do write for websites. They often write things I agree with. And they have good reason to be concerned about this trending toward absolute disenfranchised individualism. The gospel of “personal freedom” increases the Republican Party numbers even as it corrodes the reason to be part of any party or institution. Thus, it’s up to the moderate Republican writers to remind freedom-loving millennials and other wavering followers that some institutions are worth supporting outside of the military and the local church.
First up: David Brooks. I’ve written complimentary things here about other things he said, but boy was he off last week. He seemed to be working out his own worries about shallowness and depth. “In conversation when we say someone is deep, that they have a deep mind or a deep heart, we don’t mean that they are animalistic or impulsive. We mean the opposite. When we say that someone is a deep person, we mean they have achieved a quiet, dependable mind by being rooted in something spiritual and permanent.”
Brooks wants us to think that’s true, to get freedom-lovers to believe in…certain groups he believes are worth fighting for. The truth is, he should have joined half of the rest of us online; he should have been watching True Detective. Rust doesn’t believe in anything…he makes his Nietzscheism abundantly clear. But he’s deep. He’s the kind of person that gets called “deep” in real life all the time. The Rusts of the world also get called assholes and dickheads, but not shallow. Nice try, Dave. Everyone watching Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson over the last few weeks knew you blew it.
Next up: Charles C.W. Cooke, of National Review Online. Last week he wrote that the U.S.A. shouldn’t hand over control of the internet to countries we don’t trust who have pretty terrible records of censorship and repression. To tell you the truth, Cooke made a pretty convincing case. Yet he kinda had to twist himself in knots to get his audience to believe in something beyond more God, more guns, less gays, and less gummint. “In its structure, the Web is a libertarian’s dream — an explosion of spontaneous order and of mutual cooperation that would have made Hayek blush. It don’t need no stinkin’ Man. And yet, as with all good things, it does have some framework — a slim skeleton on which the meat and the gristle might be laid.” Really? Care to name more of those good things, other than the ones I’ve already mentioned here? Yeah, I doubt it. Later he wrote:
“Those who might be tempted to respond to these questions by asking why the Internet needs any oversight at all have my sympathy, but they are exploring a dead end. Just as individualists have long acknowledged that a small state and a charter of protected rights serve as the prerequisite to their liberties, so the Internet’s pioneers recognized that their vessel needed limited administration. For its operation, sustenance, and energy, the Web could rely wholly on private enterprise, deregulated markets, and civil society; for its essential freedom and the integrity of its operation, it was beholden to a small amount of governance. Without it, there would be anarchy.”
He’s right. One problem, though, is he doesn’t even acknowledge the possibility that this current noise might just be statecraft. Maybe we’re getting something like an energy agreement out of it…and really, that could be cheap at the price. The other problem is that his bottom line comes down to leaving the web in the nominal control of a government that he and most of his colleagues at NRO spend all their pixels shotgun-blasting 24/7. When you do that, you can’t necessarily expect people to be like, “wait, we can trust Obama with what now? Okay, no problem.” And you might also have a teensy problem getting your audience to the polls in 2014, when you’ve worked them up to be so disgusted with everything (except Marines, Moses, and Mom, of course).
Last one for today: Ross Douthat. He engages with the Pew results directly. I like him, always. He writes like someone you’d like to talk to. I do think it’s kinda funny that in his column questioning the merits of individualism, he makes the rather self-loving point that he’s just one year older than the current youngest generation (making him by far the youngest modern New York Times columnist) and he also wrote the introduction for a reissue of a prestigious book.
Moving on, Douthat finds that if there’s any group project to be found in millennials’ future, it will come from the internet, in some decentralized form. Sure, probably right. Douthat doesn’t ignore online life (and unlike Brooks, he was ALL over True Detective). Douthat might agree with Cooke, more or less, but that’s apparently not a battle he feels is worth fighting. He’s more worried about rear-guard fights for religion if the marriage equality movement begins to sue churches over their tax-exempt status. He probably doesn’t need to worry. Rights are rights, and Republicans love them (as opposed to laws); that’s why gays are having their day. But this increasing individualism suggests less enthusiasm for more overarching legislation. In some ways, he should love that – and to his credit, he knows that.
The question Douthat asks intelligently is where does the country go from here? While generally liberal (but disinterested) attitudes may redound to Democrats’ benefit, depending how culture-war-like the GOP decides to be, Douthat is smart enough to note that in the long term, “political coalitions always adapt and fracture in unexpected ways.” If the Democrats do become a super-party, like they are in California, they’ll break up soon enough. I for one look forward to the unexpected alliances. And if millennials’ disgust with organized Democrats and Republicans alike leads to a true populist coalition that can double the votes that Ross Perot got in 1992…well let me say that I’m here to help with some ideas. Hey, is there any way to get that millennial future to come any sooner?